Tips to prepare your executive for a successful media interview
As public information professionals, many of us are well-versed in preparing media statements ourselves, appearing on-camera as the spokesperson for our agency, and seeing our names quoted in articles. However, sometimes it’s crucial that our CEO, General Manager or other Executive Leadership be recognized and interviewed. Perhaps it’s a persistent media contact who only wants to interview your City Manager, or maybe the topic is highly sensitive and requires the most authoritative figure in your organization. Whatever the reason, it then becomes your job to prepare them for a successful media interview.
Here are some tips to ensuring your executive is interview ready:
- Research the reporter. Even a quick ten-minute Google search of their recent articles will help you prepare and demonstrate to your executive that you’ve done your research.
Look for these things when researching:
- TV news coverage or radio – what type of follow-up questions did they ask? Tone of the reporter – aggressive, mild manner?
- Print – Did the media outlet use sensationalize headlines – click bait?
- Did the article use a lot of quotes – a good reporter will share that you’re being recorded, if not, always assume you are and that each statement your executive shares may be used.
- Prepare sample questions and responses. Part of being a PR professional is being able to anticipate the type of questions that will be asked in an interview. Bonus: Your executive gets to practice answering and will be more confident during the actual interview. The goal is not to repeat the prepared responses verbatim but rather, to read it a few times so they can confidently relay the information in words, tone, and generalities they would use and reflect their style.
- Avoid short yes/no responses. Encouraging your executive to elaborate on a short yes/no answer will help avoid too many follow-up questions and give the narrative control over to your organization.
- Repeat back the question in their response. This not only helps to ensure the statement is not taken out of context but as stated earlier – ensures that the statement can stand on its own.
- If you can’t commit to an interview, issue a statement. Sometimes getting your executive on camera or on air is risky, or perhaps they have a lot of scheduling conflicts. Issuing a written statement is an option. While it’s not preferred by media outlets, it helps to ensure a timely response. Make sure each sentence in your statement can standalone, as you can’t guarantee what parts of the statement the media will choose to publish.
In the end, waiting for the story to hit the 5’o clock news or for the article to be published can be nerve racking. There is no guarantee that the messages and responses your executive shared with the media outlet will be relayed the way in which it was told. But hopefully, one take away is that your executive will see how much work and finesse goes into giving a media interview and delivering the ideal sound bite.